In the past 2 years, I have been to Asia 4 times, 3 of them being to mainland China and each of those times I have been to Louyang. Louyang is not a city that many westerners would ever come to without reason. Its not a place that attracts a lot of tourism. It is a city of 6 million people and only 40 of them are foreigners. Cities like Beijng and Shanghai have a large ex-pat community and are filled with very western stores and grocers and a westerner can acquire most of the comforts of home there. Louyang is very much different than that and is a culture unlike I have seen anywhere. Still, having been here a combines total of 2 months out of the last year of my life and experiencing much of the city, it constantly amazes me to see some of the ‘ways of life’ here. I spent the day today in the old city. I really enjoy shopping at the street vendors, buying wonderful treasures for outrageously cheap prices. I love to go into the little stores and the artists take such pride in showing you their work. One of them even had me come in and sit down for tea (he also offered me a cigarette and I declined, later finding out that that was terribly rude of me…but what was I supposed to do?). Today I watched an assembly line of men taking apart a wall brick by brick with their hands because they were renovating. I have learned to carefully avoid any type of puddle on the street because they very suspicously appear when it hasn’t rained for days. It is safe to assume that the puddles are formed by some small child wearing split pants relieving themselves in public. I have trained myself not to nonverbally respond to the ‘interesting’ aromas that very often fill the air. While they may not understand what I am saying, they can definitely understand a face that is screaming ‘DISGUSTING!’. I now know to show self restraint when a cute puppy comes up to me. No matter how much I want to, I cannot pet it. It most likely has rabis and this is what we call a ‘trip-ender’. When a street vendor says that they can’t give you a lower price on a bracelet for 10 yuan because their family will starve if they do…just pay the 10 yuan and go on. Its only $1.25 USD. No matter how much you are in the mood to eat catfish on a stick, do not try this. I saw the man gutting it on the same street with suspicous puddles only moments before putting it on the stick. However, if you are in the mood for silk worms, you can buy a whole bag of them to eat from the guy at the booth next to catfish man. Mikey says the silk worms kind of ‘explode’ in your mouths. Sounds tempting, right? I did not get to view the edible testicles however, b/c apparently, those need to be kept on ice. Although there are throngs of locals walking through the streets and cars, bikes and scooters are constantly honking, they will part like the red sea when a foreigner walks through. Many of them will stop and wave or proudly say ‘hello’. They love to show us that they know some English. I even had a couple gentlemen take pictures of me with their phones today. They thought they were being much more discreet than they actually were. After catching a cab and dodging cars, the entire way home (remember, the lines on the road are only suggestions, not actual laws), we got to listen to our cabbie’s mixed Chinese cd. After 3 painful Chinese love opera songs…I hear a famiiar beat…a familiar ‘beat it’ even. It was Michael Jackson. We were not rocking out to Michael Jackson on our way through downtown Louyang. That was some mixed cd!. Cabbie was quite impressed that I knew all the words…and I even scored a high five…and that was a night.
All this makes me wonder how outsiders view us, as Americans when they are visiting our country. Do we show them the same kind of hospitality when they step into our place of business? Would we stop and wave and let them know we’re happy they are there? Do they observe us being proud of our freedoms and working hard at our jobs? This is just something I thought a lot about today. I am always thankful for a new perspective and terribly grateful for the opportunity to appreciate a culture so different than my own. We may think its strange, but this is their normal. I thank them for their smiles, their tea, the good bargains I was given, and for inviting me into their ‘home’ today…but they can keep their silk worms. 🙂
Love from China!